December knocks on my classroom door in the way that no other month does or can.
“You are not letting me in,” says December.
“Oh, but I will!” And I do. But I do it carefully.
I generally love Target commercials because they tell a concise story through a brightly sound-tracked and brilliantly styled montage… but their holiday commercials are too much. There is that one commercial where the relatives are barely out of the house at the end of Thanksgiving dinner and the house turns into the perfect Christmas house. It happens magically, as if something invisible is touching each corner with a magic wand. And then there is that commercial with Granny, frenzied, on the Nordic track on December 1; she wonders how will she get it all done? December didn’t wait for an invitation in either of these scenarios.
Last week, I opened the door a little on December 6. I opened the door for St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, and December rushed in right behind him. We gathered on the rug and I told a legend about how St. Nicholas came to the rescue of a widower and his three daughters who had no dowry. I also told a folk tale about a ginger cookie baker who learned generosity on St. Nicholas Day. We talked about how oranges and gold covered coins came to be associated both with St. Nicholas and with Hanukkah. When the children came back from music class, they found frosted ginger cookies and chocolate covered coins on red napkins. Ginger for the baker… Coins for the anonymous dowry thrown through the window… Red for St. Nicholas’ cloak.
A chocolate coin covered in gold foil… a small piece of gingerbread… a red napkin… a story. The tangible is lit by the intangible. We gather. No bite is taken until the story is told and taken in. We slip underneath words and barriers into something deeper and common. Meaning is built without dogma. We find meaning in celebration. This is not something I learned to do as a teacher. I learned it as a mother.
My children and I learned it together. We learned to celebrate Jack Frost’s first visit; the first sighting of Robin Red Breast; the night in June when the lightning bugs first flicker; falling stars at the beach.
December is bells, beeps, and a whistling whoosh, but tradition knows what marketers don’t: the quieter and simpler events are the ones that make their mark in memory. They aren’t magic and they aren’t frenzied. Children look to us to help with this.
This week I will open the door a little wider for December. I will invite children to bring in their favorite holiday books to share with one another. They will interview their parents about traditions and we will write December poetry.
And then on Friday afternoon we’ll walk away from school and December will walk out with us. December will swirl and dance with each of us in a different way. Our own traditions wait for us. And some are waiting to be made.